One of the coolest discoveries this year for me has to be the band CIEL from Brighton, England. While I am admittedly new to their evolving success story, its easy to embrace their alt-pop, shoegazey and dreamy influences. Interestingly, a combination of catchy melodies, synths and distorted electric guitars makes up the unique sound of CIEL’s music. Equally mesmerising is frontwoman Michelle Hindriks delicate vocals and introspective lyrics.
In my attempt to learn more about my musical guest, one of the first things I learnt about Michelle was that her musical journey began with Nirvana. Soon after she went through a Britpop phase as a teenager before circling back to indie and alt-pop, especially the underground circuit in The Netherlands. Interestingly, in a time before CIEL, Michelle played in a Dutch dream pop band called Sväva before calling Brighton home. It is here that I find Michelle content in her new surroundings with bandmates Jorge and Tim whom she works closely with as collaborators. Here is some of what we talked about.
Our love of music is often a melting pot of influences of the bands we love. Michelle, as musicians is this the same for you? Does it impact how you approach songwriting?
Yes always! I believe if you want it or not you get influenced by the things around you. The bands you listen to, the gigs you go to, the people you hang out with. I’ve really missed that external influence during lockdown, not being able to go to gigs and get inspired. Sometimes you can even get inspired by gigs or music that is quite far away from what you do, but maybe the energy or a certain sound can inspire you!
I understand that you, Jorge and Tim work very closely together as bandmates. How much do you bounce around ideas with each other?
A lot! For our new recordings, which includes our newest single “Fine Everything” we worked on a few of my older demos which I wrote back in The Netherlands. We came together and completely took apart the songs and made it into the recordings how they are now. We also do a lot of taking apart and changing songs together in the studio. We really tried to keep the essence of every song and have all the parts and sounds support that.
There is a sincere honesty to your lyrics. You don’t shy away from ideas that really interest you. You seem like you are often looking inside yourself for inspiration. Is that a fair assessment? Can you tell me about one of your most personal songs?
Yes that is definitely true, I think a lot of my lyrics are very introspective. I like to look deep inside myself a lot, and analyse almost every thought or feeling I have. I find it quite interesting how a human’s brain works – so apart from learning a lot about yourself by analysing your brain processes I think it can be quite interesting and even funny. Our song Never Alone Again holds quite personal and direct lyrics, it’s about a less easy period of my life. I am asking to never have to return to it, but at the same time I am aware that things in life come and go in waves, that you don’t have the control over everything and I try to be accepting of that.
Musically the sonics you create almost seem otherworldly at times. In the process of creating melodies for instance, what are some of the accidental things that you discovered that made you go “oh wow that sounds great”?
For me songwriting is really a “in the moment” kind of thing. I feel like the more you let go of wanting to write something great and accepting that whatever comes out is good and allow yourself to also write bad songs, weirdly the better your songs get. It’s quite a weird paradox, but I think maybe it has to do with that you are more open to ideas and less scared to try out new stuff that way.
If you can put your finger on it, where did your love of creating alt-pop or dream pop music originate? Moreover, is it true you consider yourself a synth nerd?
Hahahah yeh you can say that! I do have quite some synths, including a DX7, a Wavestation and an Akai AX60 which is a really old skool analogue synth from the 80’s. I just love nerdy technical stuff and I love making sounds and production so I guess it’s the ideal combination for me! My love for alt pop definitely came from some of the bands I used to be a big fan of like the first Still Corners album, Beach House, Blonde Redhead, and more recently artists like Aldous Harding and Cate Le Bon. Although I feel like our new sound has evolved into something new, a bit darker, more up tempo and probably lost the dream pop label a bit!
‘Fine Everything’ is your stunning new track that incorporates pop, shoegaze and even indie rock. You recently said “It’s about coming of age, and not really knowing how to navigate life.” Was there a real life inspiration behind the lyrics?
Oh yes definitely. I find a lot of my friends moving into serious jobs, buying houses and buying cars. In that sense I felt a bit behind, not that I really mind it that much haha, I am quite enjoying everything as it is at the moment.
I really love how the guitars act as a fireball of nervous energy in ‘Fine Everything’. How important is that sound to the band, especially on this song?
I think it is really important and helps to get across the story of the song. It’s really important to us to tell a story with our songs that is supported by all the musical elements in the song.
Michelle, describe what your perfect guitar would sound like. What bag of tricks do you employ in the studio and when you play in a live setting?
I recently started to play bass in the band. I am enjoying it much more than I thought! I really like those overdriven, stringy and fuzzy bass sounds. Jorge brings a lot to this band when it comes to guitar sounds. He’s got a massive pedal board and half the time I don’t even know how he gets the guitar sounds that he makes. In the studio we just experiment all together with the whole band and with our producer. We had a massive pile of pedals in the middle of the room that we are putting in different orders and trying to tweak simultaneously until we find a sound that we all like.
That said, what’s it like to be playing live again? What one song have you missed the most playing and why?
I think we are actually all enjoying playing the new songs most. As they’re darker and more uptempo, we just really enjoy bringing that energy to an audience at the moment!
Finally, can you hint at what we might expect on your forthcoming new EP slanted for later this year? Is there another new single coming soon?
We will release more songs this year yes! The new EP is definitely a bit of a new musical direction for us, so we can’t wait to share it.
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